USC Trojans vs. Arizona Wildcats
McHale Center | Tucson, AZ
4:00 PM Pacific | ESPNU
It’s the fourth week of Pac-12 play, and the Trojans are looking for what could be their fourth split and a 4-4 record. Standing in their way is a trip to a hostile Tucson that has been a notorious USC death trap for years.
For the Trojans, since Bob Cantu took over for Kevin O’Neill as head coach early last week, things have started to look up. Cantu has juggled the lineup, trusted JT Terrell, allowed Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby together, and has given more playing time to depth players such as Renaldo Woolridge.
While the results haven’t been there in the win column –they’re 1-2 in three games under Cantu– the Trojans nearly upset the first place Oregon Ducks last week and took the 15-4 Arizona State Sun Devils to overtime on Thursday.
In the loss to the Sun Devils, USC scored 93 points for the first time in an eternity and were deadly from the three-point line, going 15 for 28, with Jio Fontan and JT Terrell each sinking five on their way to 20-plus point affairs.
The Trojans’ shooting struggles have reared their head in losses against Oregon and Colorado, but if they can build off solid shooting performances against Utah and ASU, they just might be able to worry Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats tonight.
Arizona however, is their toughest test of the season to date, especially at the McHale Center, where USC has not won since 2008.
If the Trojans are going to upset the 6th ranked Wildcats, in addition to shooting well from the floor as they have of late, they’ll have to have big performances out of Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby inside.
Dedmon has steadily improved week after week, but he played just 14 minutes against ASU due to foul trouble that limited him just five points and three boards. Oraby’s night was much of the same, as a four-foul night held him to 22 minutes and five rebounds.
Since the Trojans have a distinct size advantage, an interior presence against Arizona is key, as the ‘Cats thrive on driving to the key from the perimeter, mainly from Xavier-transfer Mark Lyons.
The senior point guard is widely considered to be the Wildcats’ floor general and emotional leader. Removing him from the game will be pivotal to a USC win. In his last outing, against UCLA, Lyons was relatively inefficient, earning 16 points off of 17 shots, while also turning the ball over five times. And it’s no wonder that the Bruins led for the entire game.
Meanwhile, USC will have to match big-for-big against the ‘Cats, with Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley proving to be skilled bigs while the rest of the team rebounds relentlessly. The ‘Cats grab 56.6 percent of all available rebounds on the floor, good for fifth-best in the nation.
Yet another x-factor for the ‘Cats is sophomore Nick Johnson, a scoring guard that earns 13 points a game off a respectable 46 percent shooting clip. His last outing proved to be his best, scoring 23 points against UCLA while shooting 47 percent from the floor and earning five rebounds to boot.
At 16-2, the Wildcats are not invincible. They’ve been defeated twice in Pac-12 play, needed a favorable call against Colorado and outlasted a struggling Utah squad. And while the Trojans have the depth to push the Cats, in the shadows of the O.K. Corral, they’ll need to protect the rim and contain Mark Lyons if they’re going to find themselves on the victorious side of a shootout.
Projected Starting Lineups
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Carlos Sandoval for the assistance of this article’s production.